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Friday, April 24, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 4, workspaces)

Planet Georgia's sorry excuse for a governor partially lifted the shelter-in-place, starting today. That’s going to have consequences in late May, for sure. Nevertheless, we got an email from work that said, in effect, “yeah, we know, keep working at home.”

Things I needed to set up a workspace arrived this week, and I found some other necessities in the garage. So after I sent my reports this afternoon, I got to work. After clearing the space, I vacuumed the (horrid) carpet.

We’ve been using The Boy’s old room for storage for a while. Clearing out a corner wasn’t all that difficult, but lighting has always been an issue. The house is a Cape Cod, and the only window in each upstairs bedroom is in the gable. I ordered a 4-foot LED fixture and power cord, and mounted it on the sloped part of the ceiling. Plugging it in yielded plenty of light, enough for most of the rest of the room. I used an old wire shelf hanger hook to keep the cord up against the wall.

Now for the furnishings. Daughter Dearest’s old office chair was sitting in that corner, and I found an old typing desk in the detached garage. Of course, it was all the way to the back, and covered in stuff (including lots of dust and grime). Fortunately, it was light enough for me to lift and carry by myself, and I hucked it across the driveway before wiping it down. I really need to hit the metal parts with a wire brush and repaint it, but that can wait.

With the desk mostly cleaned up, I hucked it up the stairs and dropped it in place. I grabbed the bag of gear (dock, keyboard, mouse) that I got from the office back when they first told us to not come in, and took that upstairs. To my delight, there was also a power strip that I’d forgotten about. Finally, the laptop and my second monitor went on up to make the final connections.

Another garage find—a big monthly planner whiteboard—was the last piece. We have a little container of picture hanger hooks, and there was a length of wire as well. I put it together, and there was already in a screw in the wall at just the right height. Incidentally, it covers a bunch of marks, so it wins twice.

It’s not quite done yet, even if it’s usable as a workspace in its present state. I plan to put some hooks under the front of the desk to neaten up the cabling, for starters.

Longer term, the wife wants to replace all the carpeting in the room and paint the walls. When that happens, I plan to use whiteboard paint at least in that corner. Maybe I’ll replace the cord with house wiring, to get it out of the way.

Come Monday, I’ll be a lot more comfortable about turning video on for our many conference calls than I have been in the past. I could also put pithy messages like “Approvals needed ASAP” on the whiteboard behind me, to enhance my presence.

Thursday, April 09, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 3, school)

We’re on spring break this week… like I said in the last post, we were supposed to be at the beach, but having to cancel a vacation falls into the #firstworldproblems bucket.

The two-week “online learning” got extended to next week… then just before break, they finally realized the wisest course was to finish out the school year online. It’s a pain in the rear, but better that than getting a bunch of people sick without need (or the resources to take care of them).

I need to say, the school system obviously meant the whole online learning program to be something used once or twice over the winter, maybe for a few days. Now they’re having to adapt it for a months-long outage. My biggest beef with it is that they couldn’t settle on a single app or website to manage everything—there are three or four apps/sites, and they occasionally roll out another one. Although my Mac has a built-in password manager, I’ve gotten account fatigue over the years. So every time I get a memo about Yet Another Account to set up, they can hear my eyes rolling all the way out here.

“Out here” presents its own online learning issues. This is farm country, and I still think it’s amazing we have DSL. It usually works OK, unless heavy storms take out a line card (which happens pretty often)… or everybody who can work at home is doing just that and their kids are also online trying to do their schoolwork. It gets where the connection can’t even support a low-bandwidth music stream. I can do the normal work things—email, edit a DITA file from the cloud, chat—because that traffic is mostly short bursts and can slide in between the school traffic. Conferences are more iffy, but I usually use my cellphone for audio and the video is showing mostly static images of spreadsheets or documents.

But I digress. Our school is swimming against the Zoom current (an app I only heard about after the isolation began) and using Google Meet (aka Hangout). We can often manage one hangout at a time, or at least phone in if bandwidth is an issue. Charlie’s therapists (and pre-school) is also using Meet. Most of the time, this seems to work out. The bandwidth is hitting Daughter Dearest even harder, because she’s a teacher and has to be online. It got so bad that she simply bypassed the wheezing DSL and used her phone to get out. Needless to say, that burned through our data cap, our reserve, and then some. Now we don’t have a cushion for this month. I suggested she go to Dunkin', get a coffee and maybe a doughnut from the drive-thru, then sit in her car and scarf the Wi-Fi from there.

Often enough, our connection is marginally good enough, so DD and her kids have been at the manor most school days. That means I’ve had AJ (or Charlie) in my lap more than once during a conference call. I can totally derail a meeting by turning on my camera with either one; they’re both cute.

While we’re on break, I’m trying to set up a place in the larger upstairs bedroom (The Boy’s old room) as an office space. We made some headway yesterday. But I can’t help but think that once I get upstairs, all the kids will wander (or be sent) upstairs so I can still deal with something. I guess that’s okay, as long as I hold my end up at work. So far so good!

How about you? Have you torn a bumper sticker off your van yet? Comments are open!

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 No comments

Staycation, pandemic-style

We were supposed to be in Florida this week, hanging out with Mom and hitting the beach. Instead, we’re at FAR Manor.

Over the weekend, I finally got the new front derailleur on the Fuji dialed in. Hooray, time to take a ride! Um, no. The rear inner tube had partly separated from its stem. Well, Solar had suggested I put wider tires on it to improve the ride, anyway. There’s not a lot of clearance at the front fork, but thought maybe I could go from the current 25mm width to 32mm. I have a pair of 47mm tires, but they’re definitely too wide and the wrong diameter anyway. So I made plans to run over to the bike shop on Monday, and maybe get Charlie a bike with training wheels. Meanwhile, Skylar’s bike (the one he has here) needed shifting and braking adjustments. I got him rolling as well.

In the vein of “don’t go out unless you have to,” I called the bike shop before going. Nope, the shop guy opined, there’s not enough room. And they didn’t have any Charlie-sized bikes in stock. I thought we had a small frame laying around, so instead of driving to another bike shop I thought I’d try to Frankenstein a bike from bits and pieces.

Needs a little cleaning along with training wheels
Instead, I found an entire bike with a 12” frame! It was one Mason had for a while, until he outgrew it. The tires, amazingly, still held air. Some WD-40 got the chain loosened up, and I regreased the bearings on one wheel. So it rolls, it pedals, and the coaster brake works. I ordered a set of training wheels, and almost added a Trailgator (basically a towbar to pull his bike behind mine). The price—$65 for a metal bar with clamps on either end—put me off, though. Anyway, I raised the seat an inch and it fit Charlie perfectly.

All that, actually, was in between the ceiling fans. Daughter Dearest had ceiling fans for each of the kids’ rooms (three in all), and asked me to put them in because Sizzle is still working while the rest of us are on spring break. I succeeded, only after multiple trips back to the manor to fetch hardware, tools, and at last I had enough and brought everything. That turned out to be the way to go, and the fans are all happily spinning away.

I mentioned Skylar… he’s been spending weekdays at the manor because his nominal guardians are both working. He brought his bike up (the one I adjusted) over the weekend, and an HP laptop. “Do you have a cord for this?” he asked, repeatedly, until I told him to knock it off and let me do it when I had a chance. Before the fans, I scrounged a power cord and had to shave a little off the female end to make it fit in the power supply. I pushed it in, using as much force as I dared, and a light came on when I plugged it in. He wanted to start it right away, of course, but I told him to give it a few hours to let the battery get charged.

Finally, after everything, we started it. Black screen, and the Caps Lock LED was flashing. I realized it was a pattern—three long, two short—and I looked it up. Memory error. “Well,” I told myself, “it hasn’t been run in a while. Maybe if I reseat the RAM, it will be OK.”

So I flipped it over, opened the little door on the bottom, and… no RAM at all! I found out later, from Skylar, that a house guest had scrounged the single memory stick to put in his own computer. Nice guy. So I couldn’t reseat the RAM, but I had a 4GB stick on my desk from when I upgraded the iMac. It looked to be the same style, so I used the “cat in a box” formula: if it fits, it sits. I buttoned it up, plugged it in, and hit power. It coughed to life and displayed a login screen for the Microsoft thing. Yuck. Of course, I didn’t have the PIN it requested, although I tried some of the common ones (1234, 9999, etc). I configured the BIOS to boot from a USB drive, stuck one on and rebooted, and I soon had a Kubuntu desktop. Things seemed to be working properly, and exploring the hard drive suggested there was little or nothing (besides the OS and apps) on it. Skylar thinks his grandfather (Big V’s widower) knows the PIN, so he should soon be off and running.

So that was my first day of staycation: mostly fixing other people’s stuff. But I’ll soon have a new inner tube for the Fuji, and I’ll at long last take it on its shakedown cruise.


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